c. The permanence of love (13:8–13)
8 Love never fails. 1 But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, 2 it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when what is complete 3 comes, what 4 is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, 5 I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When 6 I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul’s concern in this interlude on Christian love is twofold: (1) to redirect their thinking on the true nature of spirituality, on which he and they are at such odds (see pp. 572–73 above); and (2) to place even their emphasis on tongues within the framework of the primacy of love in Christian ethics, so that their eagerness for “spirits” (14:12) will be redirected toward edifying the community rather than directed toward “spirituality” as such.
Thus the argument began with a set of contrasts in which Paul insisted that charismata and good works do not benefit the speaker or doer if he or she does not also have Christian love. Now, following the lyrical description of agapē in vv. 4–7, he brings this argument to its conclusion with another set of contrasts: Love is the “way that is beyond comparison” because, in contrast to the charismata, which function within the framework of our present eschatological existence only, agapē characterizes our existence both now and forever. Thus its primacy, not because what is only for now (charismata) is lesser, but because what is both for now and forever (agapē) must dictate how the gifts function in the present life of the church.
The greater urgency of this present argument, however, is with the “only-for-the-present” nature of the gifts, not with the permanence of love—although that is always lingering near the surface. Love is scarcely mentioned (vv. 8a, 13 only); the fact that the gifts will pass away forms the heart of the entire argument (vv. 8b–12). The clue to this emphasis lies with the Corinthians’ understanding of tongues as evidence of their spirituality. The problem is with an “overspiritualized” eschatology, as if tongues, the language of the angels, meant that they were already partakers of the ultimate state of spiritual existence. 7 Hence the underlying polemical tone of this passage. 8 This is not a condemnation of the gifts; it is a relativizing of them. In 1:7 Paul had already stated his own perspective: “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Now he urges over and again that gifts do not belong to the future, but only to the present. On this they are deluded: The irony is that the gifts, their evidence of their future existence, will pass away (v. 8a); they are “partial” (v. 9); they are as childhood in comparison with adulthood (v. 11); they are like looking into a mirror in comparison with seeing someone in person (v. 12). 9
One must not mistake this emphasis with a devaluation of the gifts themselves. 10 The fact is that we are still in the present; and therefore in chap. 14 Paul will go on not only to correct an imbalance with regard to the gifts, but to urge their proper use. Pursue love (14:1), he says, because that alone is forever (13:8, 13); but that also means that in the present you should eagerly desire manifestations of the Spirit that build up the community (14:1–5).
8 This paragraph begins with the famous line, “Love never fails 11 ,” but it is not immediately clear what Paul intends. On the one hand, the combination of the adverb “never” and the present tense of the verb suggests that it stands in continuity with the preceding list, bringing the whole to its conclusion. In this case it would mean something like “Love is never defeated, is never brought to the ground; it persists even when rebuffed.” 12 On the other hand, several items indicate that it serves as the beginning of the present paragraph 13 and is intended to be set in contrast both to the verb “remain” in v. 13 and the verbs “pass away” and “cease” in v. 8. If so, then it would mean something like “never comes to an end, becomes invalid,” and thus extends the sense of the final verb in v. 7, “always endures.” 14 Perhaps Paul’s intent is to be found in the very ambiguity of such figurative language, so that both are in view. There is a sense in which love is never brought down; it reflects God’s character, after all, and cannot fluctuate from what it is. Yet that very reality is what also gives it eternal character, so that it “remains” even after all other things have come to their proper end.
Despite the majestic description of love that has just preceded, Paul has not lost sight of his overall argument. Thus he sets forth three charismata 15 which, by way of contrast to the nonfailing character of love, are destined “to come to an end.” If there is any significance to this choice of gifts, it lies with the fact that the first, “prophecies,” is his own preference for the edification of the community, 16 while the other two are Corinthian favorites. In both cases, and therefore in all cases, these are manifestations of the Spirit for the church’s present eschatological existence, in which God’s new people live “between the times”—between the inauguration of the End through the death and resurrection of Jesus with the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit and the final consummation when God will be “all in all” (see 15:20–28). Thus the basic verb chosen to describe the temporal, transitory nature of the charismata is an eschatological one, used elsewhere in the letter to refer to the “passing away” of what belongs merely to the present age. 17 This choice of verbs, which recurs in v. 10, is already the indicator that the contrasts in the passage have to do with eschatology, not with maturity of some kind.
It needs only be noted further that “knowledge” in this passage does not mean ordinary human knowing or learning, but refers rather to that special manifestation of the Spirit, the “utterance of knowledge” (12:8), which understands revealed “mysteries” (13:2). 18 It has to do especially with “knowing” the ways of God in the present age. This is made certain by vv. 9 and 12b, where this form of “knowledge” is referred to as “partial,” in contrast to a “face-to-face” knowing at the Eschaton that is “complete,” that is, of the same character as God’s knowledge of us.
9–10 Paul now sets out to explain 19 what he has asserted in v. 8. He does so by using the language “in part” 20 to describe the “for now only” nature of the gifts 21 (repeating the verb “pass away” from v. 8 to indicate what happens to them) and “the perfect/complete” 22 to describe the time when what is “in part” will come to an end. The use of the substantive “the perfect/complete,” which sometimes can mean “mature,” plus the ambiguity of the first analogy (childhood and adulthood), has led some to think that the contrast is between “immaturity” and “maturity.” 23 But that will hardly do since the contrast has to do with the gifts’ being “partial,” not the believers themselves. 24 Furthermore, that is to give the analogy, which is ambiguous at best, precedence over the argument as a whole and the plain statement of v. 12b, 25 where Paul repeats verbatim 26 the first clause of v. 9, “we know 27 in part,” in a context that can only be eschatological. Convoluted as the argument may appear, Paul’s distinctions are between “now” and “then,” between what is incomplete (though perfectly appropriate to the church’s present existence) and what is complete (when its final destiny in Christ has been reached and “we see face to face” and “know as we are known”). 28
That means that the phrase “in part” refers to what is not complete, or at least not complete in itself. 29 The phrase by itself does not carry the connotation of “temporary” or “relative”; that comes from the context and the language “now … then” in v. 12. But the implication is there. It is “partial” because it belongs only to this age, which is but the beginning, not the completion, of the End. These gifts have to do with the edification of the church as it “eagerly awaits our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7). The nature of the eschatological language in v. 12 further implies that the term “the perfect” has to do with the Eschaton itself, not some form of “perfection” in the present age. 30 It is not so much that the End itself is “the perfect,” language that does not make tolerably good sense; rather, it is what happens at the End, when the goal has been reached (see n. 22 ). At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached; at that point those gifts now necessary for the building up of the church in the present age will disappear, because “the complete” will have come. To cite Barth’s marvelous imagery: “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished.” 31
11 Picking up the themes of “in part” and “the complete,” plus the verb “pass away” 32 from v. 10, Paul proceeds to express the point of vv. 9–10 by way of analogy. The analogy itself is commonplace. 33 The adult does not continue to “talk” or “think” or “reason” like a child. 34 Because of the use of the verb “talk,” which elsewhere in this section is used with tongues, and the contrast in 14:20 between thinking like children and adults, it is common to see this analogy as referring to speaking in tongues, 35 which is then also considered “childish” behavior that the Corinthians are now being urged to set aside in favor of love. Such a view flies full in the face of the argument itself, both here and in 12:4–11 and 14:1–40. 36
Paul’s point in context does not have to do with “childishness” and “growing up,” but with the difference between the present and the future. He is illustrating that there will come a time when the gifts will pass away. 37 The analogy, therefore, says that behavior from one period in one’s life is not appropriate to the other; the one is “done away with” when the other comes. So shall it be at the Eschaton. The behavior of the child is in fact appropriate to childhood. The gifts, 38 by analogy, are appropriate to the present life of the church, especially so since from Paul’s point of view they are the active work of the Spirit in the church’s corporate life. On the other hand, the gifts are equally inappropriate to the church’s final existence because then, as he will go on to argue in v. 12, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Hence the implicit contrast with love, which will never come to an end. Love does not eliminate the gifts in the present; rather, it is absolutely essential to Christian life both now and forever. The gifts, on the other hand, are not forever; they are to help build up the body—but only in the present, when such edification is needed.
12 Paul now proceeds to another analogy, to which he appends an immediate application. With their repeated “now, but then” language, these sentences bring out more sharply the contrast between the Corinthians’ present existence and that of the future. The fact that they are tied to v. 11 by an explanatory “for” 39 further indicates, as we have argued, that the preceding analogy has basically to do with two modes of existence, not with “growing up” and putting away childish behavior.
The first sentence, which literally reads “For at the present time 40 we look through 41 a looking-glass en ainigmati 42 , but then 43 face to face 44 ,” is particularly relevant to their setting, since Corinth was famous as the producer of some of the finest bronze mirrors in antiquity. 45 That suggests that the puzzling phrase en ainigmati is probably not as pejorative as most translations imply. 46 More likely the emphasis is not on the quality of seeing that one experiences in looking into a mirror—that would surely have been an affront to them—but to the indirect nature of looking into a mirror 47 as opposed to seeing someone face to face. 48 The analogy, of course, breaks down a bit since one sees one’s own face in a mirror, and Paul’s point is that in our present existence one “sees” God (presumably), 49 or understands the “mysteries,” only indirectly. It is not a distorted image that we have in Christ through the Spirit; but it is as yet indirect, not complete. To put all this in another way, but keeping the imagery, “Our present ‘vision’ of God, as great as it is, is as nothing when compared to the real thing that is yet to be; it is like the difference between seeing a reflected image in a mirror and seeing a person face to face.” In our own culture the comparable metaphor would be the difference between seeing a photograph and seeing someone in person. As good as a picture is, it is simply not the real thing.
With the second set of sentences in this verse, Paul brings into focus all that has been argued since v. 8. Picking up the words of contrast from v. 12a (“at the present time,” “then”) but the content of v. 9, he concludes, “Now I 50 know in part, but then I shall know fully, 51 even as I am fully known.” By this Paul intends to delineate the difference between the “knowing” that is available through the gift of the Spirit and the final eschatological knowing that is complete. What is not quite clear is the exact nuance of the final clause that expresses the nature of that final knowing, “even as 52 I am fully known.” It is often suggested that the passive, “as I am fully known,” “contains the idea of electing grace.” 53 Attractive as that is theologically, most likely it simply refers to God’s way of knowing. God’s knowledge of us is immediate—full and direct, “face to face,” 54 as it were; at the Eschaton, Paul seems to be saying, we too shall know in this way, with no more need for the kinds of mediation that the mirror illustrates or that “prophecy” and the “utterance of knowledge” exemplify in reality.
Thus Paul’s point with all of this is now made. In v. 8 he argued that love, in contrast to charismata, never comes to an end. Precisely because the gifts have an end point, which love does not, they are of a different order altogether. This does not make them imperfect, although in a sense that too is true; it makes them relative. Paul’s concern in vv. 9–12 has been to demonstrate the strictly “present age” nature of these gifts. They shall pass away (v. 8); they are “in part” (v. 9); they belong to this present existence only (vv. 10–12). Most likely the purpose of all this is simply to reinforce what was said in vv. 1–3, that the Corinthians’ emphasis on tongues as evidence for spirituality is wrong because it is wrongheaded, especially from people who do not otherwise exhibit the one truly essential expression of the Spirit’s presence, Christian love. Good as spiritual gifts are, they are only for the present; Christian love, which the Corinthians currently lack, is the “more excellent way” in part because it belongs to eternity as well as to the present.
13 This sentence, which is related to v. 8 through its use of the verb “remain,” is at once both the best known and most difficult text in the paragraph. There can be little question that it is intended to bring the argument of the present paragraph to a conclusion, and probably the entire chapter as well. But how? There are five interrelated problems: (1) Whether the words “and now” carry a temporal or logical force; (2) in conjunction with that, whether “remain” has to do with the present or the future; (3) the sudden appearance of “faith and hope” in an argument that heretofore has had to nothing to do with these virtues, but with love and spiritual gifts; (4) how love is “greater than” these other two; and (5) how, then, this sentence concludes the paragraph.
Despite the long debate over the temporal or logical force of the combination “and now,” 55 it is difficult under any circumstances to divest the adverb “now” of some temporal sense. That is, even if its basic thrust is logical (= “but as it is”), 56 it carries the force “as it is in the present state of things.” This seems to be all the more so here, given the present tense of the verb “remain” and the fact that these three opening words stand in immediate conjunction to the eschatological words that have just preceded. Thus, however we finally translate them, these opening words seem to imply some kind of present situation over against what is yet to be, when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
The real issue, then, has to do with the sudden appearance of “faith and hope” with love, and in what sense these three “abide.” First, there is good evidence to suggest that this was a familiar triad in early Christian preaching, and therefore that it would have been well known to the Corinthians. 57 Together these words embrace the whole of Christian existence, as believers live out the life of the Spirit in the present age, awaiting the consummation. They have “faith” toward God, that is, they trust him to forgive and accept them through Christ. Even though now they do not see him (or see, as it were, “a reflection in a mirror”), they trust in his goodness and mercies. They also have “hope” for the future, which has been guaranteed for them through Christ. Through his resurrection and the gift of the Spirit, they have become a thoroughly future-oriented people; the present age is on its way out, therefore they live in the present “as if not” (cf. 7:29–31), not conditioned by the present with its hardships or suffering. They are on their way “home,” destined for an existence in the presence of God that is “face to face.” And they have “love” for one another as they live this life of faith and hope in the context of a community of brothers and sisters of similar faith and hope. In the present life of the church “these three remain (or continue): faith, hope, and love.” 58
But why this triad in the present context where the contrast has been between gifts and love? The answer probably lies with Paul’s concern to emphasize that love is not like the gifts, in that it is both for now and forever. The preceding argument might leave the impression that since the gifts are only for the present, love is basically for the future. But not so. Love never comes to an end; it always remains. So now he concludes the argument by emphasizing the presentness of love as well. In so doing, since he is trying to emphasize the nature of their present life in Christ, he adds faith and hope to love somewhat automatically, since for him these are what accompany love, not spiritual gifts. They simply belong to different categories.
That also, then, explains why he adds at the end, “But the greatest 59 of these is love.” Even though love “continues” in the present, along with its companions faith and hope, love is the greatest of these three because it “continues” on into the final glory, which the other two by their very nature do not.
Thus with this sentence Paul is basically bringing the present argument to its conclusion. The concern has been over the “only for now” aspect of the gifts, which stands in contrast to love. The gifts are “in part”; they belong to the “now,” which will be brought to an end with the “then” that is to be. Love, on the other hand, is not so. It never fails; it will never come to an end. Along with its companions, faith and hope, it abides in the present. But it is greater, at least as the point of this present argument, because it abides on into eternity.
It is not difficult to bring the final verse of this paragraph into the contemporary church; these are still the “three imperishables” for those who would live a truly Christian life in the present age. Nor is it difficult to emphasize the eschatological dimension of the paragraph, that our present existence, for all its blessings, is but a foretaste of the future. This present partial existence shall someday give way to that which is final and complete. What is more difficult is the way the emphasis on the “present only” aspect of the gifts has been treated. Most have simply yielded to historical reality and have tried to make a virtue out of that reality, that for the most part these extraordinary gifts have already ceased for so many. The irony, of course, is that our present view is almost the precise opposite of that of the Corinthians, who thought of these things as eternal and therefore needed to have that view corrected. One wonders how Paul would have responded to present-day cerebral Christianity, which has generally implied that we can get along quite well without the Spirit in the present age, now that the church has achieved its maturity in orthodoxy. It seems likely that he would not be pleased to see this text used to support such a view of things.
1 The Westerns and MajT read the compound ἐκπίπτει; P46 א* A B C 048 243 33 1739 pc read πίπτει. The latter is almost certainly original, despite Harnack, “Hymn,” p. 481 n. 2. The former presupposes the meaning “come to an end” for πίπτω; see the commentary.
3 NIV, “perfection”; plus “imperfect” for the next clause. But these tend to mislead since the latter is the same phrase translated “in part” in v. 9, with the article making it a substantive. See the commentary.
4 The MajT, with no early support, adds τότε, probably under the influence of v. 12. But it misses the point of the later τότε altogether, which is not a logical “then” but a contrast between the present “now” and the eschatological “then.”
5 For the argument for the word order of P46 and the MajT, “as a child I talked, etc.,” as the original, see Zuntz, 128–29, who is almost certainly correct. As he notes, Paul’s emphasis lies not on the verbs, but on the repeated ὡς νήπιος.
9 For those who take a noneschatological view of this passage, seeing it rather as dealing with immaturity and maturity, see below, n. 23.
10 Something like this is suggested all too frequently by scholars whose skills should serve them better. That for Paul the Spirit is the source of the gifts and that he himself holds prophecy in such high regard make this an impossible position. See also n. 20 on 12:1–3.
11 Gk. πίπτει, which literally means “to fall,” is used figuratively to refer to “falling” into guilt, sin, or apostasy (cf. 10:8, 12) or to “become invalid, deprived of its force” (Luke 16:17). See the discussion by W. Michaelis, TDNT VI, 164–66.
12 Cf. Michaelis, TDNT VI, 166, who suggests the former alternatives, and Barrett, 305, who prefers the latter but in contrast to Michaelis sees the sentence as the beginning of the present paragraph.
13 Especially (1) the repetition of the subject ἡ ἀγάπη, suggesting in the strongest way that it is no longer part of the preceding series; (2) the δέ and repeated εἴτε before the three gifts, indicating that these are intended to be in contrast to this sentence; and (3) the verb πίπτει, standing in contrast to the μένει with which the paragraph concludes.
17 Gk. καταργέω (cf. 1:28; 2:6; 6:13; 15:24–26; 2 Thess. 2:8), used here with both “prophecy” and “knowledge.” Some (e.g., MacArthur, 359; cf. S. D. Toussaint, “First Corinthians Thirteen and the Tongues Question,” BibSac 120 , 311–16) have argued that the change of verbs (including the change of voice) with tongues (παύσονται) has independent significance, as though this meant that tongues might cease before prophecy and knowledge. But that misses Paul’s concern rather widely. The change of verbs is purely rhetorical; to make it otherwise is to elevate to significance something in which Paul shows no interest at all. Just as one can scarcely distinguish between “cease” and “pass away” when used in the same context, neither can one distinguish between καταργέω and παύω in this context (although the NIV’s choice of “be stilled” for tongues is felicitous). The middle voice came along with the change of verbs.
19 Note the return of the explanatory γάρ, last seen in 12:12–14 (cf. its frequency in chaps. 1–11), evidence that Paul is returning to his argumentative style, which will predominate throughout chap. 14.
20 Gk. ἐκ μέρους; cf. 12:27.
21 The choice of prophecy and knowledge from the preceding verse does not “mean” anything. Partly this is due to style, partly to the fact that “tongues” does not lend itself easily to the way these sentences are expressed. “We speak in tongues in part” is not particularly meaningful; but tongues, as well as all the other charismata in 12:8–10, are to be understood as included in the argument. Otherwise Miguens, “Reconsidered,” p. 90, and Martin, 53–54, who suggest that “knowledge,” the Corinthians’ prized gift, is basically being taken to task here. The argument of chap. 14 (esp. v. 6) refutes this.
22 Gk. το͂ τέλειον; cf. 2:7. This is the adjective of the verb τελειόω. Both mean to “bring to an end, to complete” something, although they also carry the further sense of “making” or “being perfect.” That is, the completing of something is the perfecting of it. God may thus be described as τέλειος (Matt. 5:48), which can only mean “perfect.” The meaning in the present instance is determined by its being the final goal of what is ἐκ μέρους, “partial.” Thus its root sense of “having attained the end or purpose” (BAGD), hence “complete,” seems to be the nuance here.
23 This has taken several forms, depending on how one understands το͂ τέλειον. (1) Some see it as referring to love itself. In this view the Corinthian desire for gifts reflects their immaturity; when they have come to the fullness of love they will put away such childish desires (e.g., Findlay, 900; Bruce, 128; Johansson, “1 Cor xiii,” pp. 389–90; Miguens, “Reconsidered,” pp. 87–97; Holladay, 174). (2) Others see “the perfect” as referring to the full revelation given in the NT itself, which when it would come to completion would do away with the “partial” forms of charismatic revelation. Given its classical exposition by B. B. Warfield, this view has been taken over in a variety of ways by contemporary Reformed and Dispensationalist theologies. It is an impossible view, of course, since Paul himself could not have articulated it. What neither Paul himself nor the Corinthians could have understood can possibly be the meaning of the text. (3) Still others see it as referring to the maturing of the body, the church, which is sometimes also seen to have happened with the rise of the more regular clergy (Eph. 4:11–13 is appealed to) or the coming of Jews and Gentiles into the one body (see, e.g., J. R. McRay, “To Teleion in 1 Corinthians 13:10,” RestQ 14 , 168–83; and R. L. Thomas, “ ‘Tongues … Will Cease,’ ” JETS 17 , 81–89). This view has nothing to commend it except the analogy of v. 11, which is a misguided emphasis at best. It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider “mature” our rather totally cerebral and domesticated—but bland—brand of faith, with the concomitant absence of the Spirit in terms of his supernatural gifts! The Spirit, not Western rationalism, marks the turning of the ages, after all; and to deny the Spirit’s manifestations is to deny that our present existence is eschatological, belonging to the beginning of the time of the End.
24 Even though Paul says “we know in part,” the emphasis is not on the immaturity of the Corinthians, but on the relative nature of the gifts. This is demonstrated (1) by the γάρ that ties it to v. 8, where it is said of these gifts that they will pass away, not that the Corinthians need to grow up, and (2) by the clause “we prophesy in part,” which makes sense only as having to do with the prophecies, not with the prophets.
27 No significance can be attached to the use of the verb instead of the noun. The usage in 8:1–2 indicates that the verb here means “to have knowledge,” which in this context means to have the gift of knowledge.
28 Cf. Grudem, 148–49, especially the discussion of ἐκ μέρους in n. 59.
30 Cf. the discussion in Grudem, 210–19, which also includes a refutation of the views in n. 23.
31 The Resurrection of the Dead (ET, London, 1933), p. 86.
32 But now in the active. This is the only instance in the letter where it is not necessarily eschatological. It was chosen in this instance because of its use in the preceding sentences. Here it means “do away with,” or in keeping with the imagery “set aside.”
33 See Conzelmann, 226 n. 84.
38 Not simply tongues, which is not taken up as such in the argument after v. 8. Tongues at this point is but one among all the Spirit-inspired gifts (note the special emphasis on the Spirit’s role in 12:7–11) that are part of the present life of the church.
39 Unfortunately untranslated in the NIV.
40 Gk. ἄρτι, an adverb that in classical Greek meant “just now” (cf. Matt. 9:18), but in Hellenistic Greek took on the further connotation of “now in general,” referring especially to “the present time.” This is the predominant usage in the NT, and can mean nothing else when set in contrast with τότε, as here.
42 This Greek word, which appears only here in the NT, literally means “in a riddle, or figurative way.” Very likely this is an echo of Num. 12:8 (LXX), where God spoke with Moses directly (“mouth to mouth”), not as to the prophets, to whom he spoke through visions or dreams (v. 6), “in figures,” implying that they received “pictures” of the truth that were not as clear as the direct words to Moses. The problem here is whether it means “indistinctly” (thus, “obscurely,” “dimly,” etc.) or “indirectly” (thus “in riddle” as over against “direct speech”), referring to the form rather than the content. The majority of interpreters have taken the former position, but cf. the critique by S. E. Bassett, “1 Cor 13:12, βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι ́ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι,” JBL 47 (1928), 232–36; and esp. N. Hugedé, La métaphore du miroir dans les Epitres de Saint Paul aux Corinthiens (Neuchâtel, 1957); there is an English synopsis by F. W. Danker, “The Mirror Metaphor in 1 Cor 13:12 and 2 Cor. 3:18,” CTM 31 (1960), 428–29.
45 See, e.g., Corinth, A Brief History of the City and a Guide to the Excavations, published by the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, 1972, p. 5. It is thus surely not by accident that this analogy occurs only in the Corinthian correspondence among the Pauline letters (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18); cf. in a similar way the relevance of the analogy in 9:24–27.
46 As, e.g., by “darkly” (KJV), “we are baffled” (Montgomery); “only blurred” (Norlie); “dimly” (TCNT). In fact the idea that their mirrors were of poor quality and therefore one did not get a true image is a purely modern idea. See Hugedé, Métaphore, pp. 97–100.
48 This imagery has elicited considerable discussion, with a whole range of suggestions, most of which seem quite unrelated to the context, and especially to the point of the analogy, which is made plain in the second half of the verse. The most likely of these options is that of G. Kittel, TDNT I, 178–80, who argues that both terms, “through a mirror in riddles,” refer to “seeing in the Spirit,” meaning to “see prophetically.” See the critique of the other suggestions in Hugedé, Métaphore, pp. 37–95.
50 For this sudden switch to the singular see on v. 1.
51 The verb in this final clause is the compound ἐπιγινώσκω, which probably is intended to carry its precise nuance, “to know exactly, completely, or through and through” (BAGD).
54 Cf. Gen. 32:31.
56 The debate is carried on, of course, by those who want to interpret the sentence eschatologically, i.e., that faith, hope, and love all remain forever, even into eternity. This view demands a logical force to νυνὶ δέ, since a strictly temporal sense eliminates it as a possibility. But it must be noted that adopting a “logical” sense to νυνὶ δέ does not demand an eschatological view, it merely makes it possible.
57 In Paul see 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8; Gal. 5:5–6; Rom. 5:1–5; Col. 1:4–5; Eph. 4:2–5 (cf. Tit. 2:2). Beyond Paul see Heb. 6:10–12; 10:22–24; 1 Pet. 1:3–8. Beyond the NT see Barn. 1:4; 11:8; Polycarp, Phil. 3:2–3. Cf. the discussion in A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors (London, 19612), pp. 33–35, who has argued convincingly that the formula antedates Paul, and suggests that the words τὰ τρία ταῦτα might be translated “the well-known three.”
58 Those who interpret the passage as eschatological would not disagree with most of this; the question is whether for Paul “remain” meant “forever.” The obvious difficulty with the eschatological view—with which all who adopt it struggle in some way—is how Paul could envision “faith” and “hope” as continuing into eternity, especially since in 2 Cor. 5:7 he contrasts faith with the final glory in the words “for we walk by faith and not by sight,” and in Rom. 8:24 he says that “hope that is seen is not hope.” Despite a variety of suggestions as to how these two virtues could still be a part of our eternal existence, I find the idea especially incompatible with Rom. 8:24. “Hope” does not seem to be a meaningful concept once it has been realized. Among those who argue for an eschatological sense for μένει, see Parry, 196–98; R-P, 300; Barrett, 308–10; M.-F. Lacan, “Les Trois qui demeurent (I Cor. xiii,13),” RSR 46 (1958), 321–43; F. Neirynck, “De Grote Drie. Bij een nieuwe vertaling van 1 Cor XIII 13,” ETL 39 (1963), 595–615.
59 Gk. μείζων, as in 12:31b and 14:5; here it probably takes the place of the superlative, as it often does in Hellenistic Greek. Otherwise, R. P. Martin, “A Suggested Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:13,” ExpT 82 (1971), 119–20, who gives it its true comparative force, suggesting it should be translated “but greater than these [three] is [the] love [of God].”